Indian motorsport finally arrived at the world stage when Amittrajit Ghosh and co-driver Ashwin Naik made a dream debut in the FIA European Rally Championship, recording a fairytale victory in the ERC3 category of the EKO Rally Acropolis that concluded in Athens this week. Participating in only his third rally outside India, the Kolkata-based Amittrajit became the first Indian to win a leg of European rally championship.
Starting as underdogs and driving a generation-old Ford Fiesta R2, the duo negotiated dusty, rough and rocky mountain roads around Athens to romp home in 3 hours 34 minutes and 49.9 seconds — finishing a good 12 minutes 10.7s ahead of second-placed Emma Falcon (co-driver E Gonzalez) in the Citroen DS3 and Artur Muradian (co-driver Pavel Chelebaev) in Peugeot 208 who returned third.
The win cannot have come at a better time given the fact that another Indian rally driver Gaurav Gill will be taking part in WRC 2 this week.
The Team RRPM Baltic Motorsport Promotion-run vehicle made a slow start as Amittrajit not only took time to get used to the terrain but also had to adjust his driving style in the left-hand drive vehicle.
Even after the first two stages on Day I, Ghosh was not comfortable with his car. “We did not test the car with a full tank or two spare tyres. So the balance of the car was bad. I called up N. Leelakrishnan (veteran Indian tuner) for his advice on the changes I needed to make in the car’s set up,” Amittrajit said after the victory.
His consistency was rewarded as he topped the chart in Special Stage (SS) 5 when both the front-runners dropped out from Saturday’s run. “Coming here with an older generation R2, the goal was to finish. But in the back of my mind I knew that if we got to the finish line we’d be on the podium. But on Saturday morning when I was only two seconds behind leader Muradian, I knew, I could do it,” he said.
As part of his preparation, Ghosh took part in Rally Talsi, which was a round of the Latvian Rally Championship, in mid-May where he finished a creditable fifth in his maiden appearance.
“Rally Talsi helped me a lot in getting ready for Acropolis,” Ghosh stated.
However, both Gill and Ghosh, who are teammates for Team Mahindra in the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC), have not registered for the entire season in their respective events. Both have decided to first taste the water in unknown territory before taking the final plunge, perhaps in the next season.
Gill, the multiple Asia Pacific Rally champion, this year has taken one step ahead to rub shoulders with the world’s best drivers and cars, while Ghosh too is on the lookout to graduate into the next level at the world stage.
The way Ghosh made his presence felt in his maiden endeavour, it looks like good time awaits Indian motorsport in the days to come.